Oxygen Not Included (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam

When you can tell a release candidate is a big step up from its Early Access, it’s not only a pleasant feeling, it’s a relief. A game you can point to and say “Nice, I enjoyed this!” And Oxygen Not Included, having rebalanced and added More Stuff to the usual Klei brand of “Games I Love, But Seem To Dislike Me (While Being Enjoyable To Play)”, is definitely one of those kinds of games. What interests me most about it is that it also retains that feeling of a slow fight of attrition against a difficult situation (Being trapped in the middle of an asteroid, with Oxygen in limited supply, and the means of making it in potentially limited supply, and… Look, there’s a lot of things I could affix “In limited supply” or “Of limited effectiveness” to, from food to water to power, and beyond.

“Wait, whose idea was it to import fish to flop around?” [answered only by angry squeaking]

But it’s not insurmountable, although it definitely feels that way in the early game sometimes, and the game rewards you for that struggle, that fight for survival, with cool things to find, and more information about why you, for some reason, are squeaking, honking clones, finding yourself in a tiny space at first, with absolutely no context beyond “Hey, you’ll die if you don’t work at the whole staying alive thing! Chop chop!”

And a part of what it’s added, although part of that may well be me having gotten better at things (With the exception of wiring… Le sigh) is that you get to see it more, before it starts pulling the gloves off. And, for players who want a challenge, or just a change, there are several different types of asteroids to be trapped in, from your bog standards, to your boggy standards, all the way to “Oh heck, why did someone even do this, putting us in this hellhole to die?”

Speaking of “Why would you even?” Jean… Ellie… WHY WOULD YOU EVEN?!?

Now, overall, it’s indirect management. I can’t say all of it’s good (It still, oddly, has the speed settings as a sort of throttle, so to go from “somewhat fast” to “normal” is two taps, but I can somewhat forgive that, especially as the sleep period seems to go by quicker), and reading tooltips is a must, but… Scalable UI. That’s good. Clear fonts. Cool. And very little that seemed to affect colourblindness, with the tooltips aiding in letting me know “This is coal, this is granite, and this is a chlorine filled mess you’ll probably have to go into with insufficient protection, because there’s useful things here. Hope your air plan is gooood, LOL!” Finally, there’s been some streamlining. Research is more clearly delineated, and levelling up a Duplicant is now at the base duplicator, rather than a thing requiring its own research. Nice!

And it’s these things, these seemingly small (But actually kind of big) changes that make the game friendlier, without, obviously, being too friendly. You’ll still, eventually, have to do dangerous things, overstretch yourself, and bar some duplicants from using machinery just to cut down on their commute. And you’ll still, occasionally, be yelling at them, despite a priority system, to “Argh, fix that, fix that, you’re going to be in trouble if you don’t AAAARGH.”

Pictured: The transcendent experience of education. Not Pictured: My electrical systems shorting and my coal generators slowly making the air worse.

But, for the most part, outside the really early game, that AARGH is a slower process, a process you can come back from, if you keep your head together. And, since Oxygen Not Included was already interesting and charming, not pretending to be anything other than it is, it remains highly recommended to fans of these indirect management survival games.

Just don’t come crying to me if your wiring overloads and starts a fire. Not least because I won’t be able to help you either.

No, really… The Mad Welshman sometimes has trouble remembering whether CHA FAN is a usable motherboard socket for… A fan. Don’t ask him about wiring.

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Abyss Manager (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Running a dungeon is, as we’ve seen multiple times in the thematic genre that is Dungeon Management (be it RTS, management sim, or some variety of adventure game), quite tough. There’s always those pesky murderhobos out to kill your monsters, raid your gold hoard, and ruin your plans for world domination, because apparently they’re the kind of jerks who don’t want the world to be under your totes-gentle-honest hand… Adventurers are such assholes.

AAARGH. I was researching workplace improvement, you bastards!

Unfortunately for Abyss Manager, it’s also currently a slow descent into hell to play. It is, on the one hand, turn based, so it gives you, in a sense, plenty of time to decide things. However, you are almost constantly assailed by adventurers, meaning that your two main considerations are “Where can I put my exhausted staff to productively recuperate their stamina?” and “Ohgod, who can I pull from one kind of work to fight this set of beefy bastards of various races?”

Progression in the game is, essentially, over grindy on Normal difficulty, with buildings costing many, many turns worth of work, tournaments between the various dungeon masters that totally aren’t mandatory… If you like having Prestige and Sponsorship for your dungeon, that is, and always, always, the choice between spending what renown you have (for lo, Altars don’t regenerate renown all that well), and whether swapping someone out will be worth the 20 stamina lost for retreating mid battle to be replaced, or if they can soooomehow survive the next turn, to make it slightly less painful to do so.

What do these sponsorships actually do? Couldn’t tell you.

Finally, on the gripes, the game doesn’t tell you a whole lot. Oh, it has tooltips, but tutorialisation is thin on the ground, and tooltips can only take you so far. So, that’s the gripes over with… What’s enjoyable?

Well, the sound effects and pixel aesthetic are alright, and a research tree which costs more the more you research (but can be researched in several different directions) is an alright idea. There’s a fair few races, lots of skills, exploration of the world… The problem being that aforementioned “Oh hey, you can’t do a lot of it a lot of the time, because you’re being assailed a whole hell of a lot, and you’re playing the stamina shuffle constantly (with the added annoyance that exploration and matches take several turns to complete, leaving you relatively open to attacks)

Everyone I can tag in from other work is tired. The adventurers keep coming, and we will not last out. – Last journal entry.

While Abyss Manager does have some interesting ideas, hot damn, it really needs to cut down on that grind, maybe explain things a little better, before I could really recommend it.

The Mad Welshman does, however, appreciate that running a lair is hard. His imps absolutely refuse to help with the dishes, for example.

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Godhood (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £22.39 (£9.29 for Supporter Edition upgrade)
Where To Get It: Steam

A nonbinary option for a deity is, honestly, just common sense. Sometimes, you want to manifest as a rock, and sometimes, you want to manifest as an enby. Sometimes, you want to be a wholesome deity, and… Well, it will come as precisely no surprise to anyone who keeps up with me that I have mainly been playing a Dark God of Endless Thirst. Chastity? PFAH. War or Peace? PSHAW. My deity advocates for shipping!

There are currently six potential virtues, two of which are locked off for now, in the next step. But this, honestly, is not a bad character creation screen.

Getting back to talking a little more specifically about the game (ahem), Godhood is a turn-based strategy title by Abbey Games, where you, the newest religion in the mesoamerican world in which the game is set, are kicked out of your home village for your beliefs, and swear, as a result, to spread the name of your deity, by force, by cunning argument, or, as is the case with my head prophetess, by flirtings and smoochings. And it’s a good idea to mix it up a bit, as some enemies are immune to your core attacks when you go looking for believers.

There’s a fair bit going on in the back of this game (to the point where the “Stats” subtab is an intimidating list of numbers), but the main elements are actually pretty clear. You level up by converting folks, it’s a good idea to keep your prophets of various types as happy as possible, and, over time, you build up a village capable of proselytising to ever greater audiences, balancing the faith and levels of your prophets against improving the village through the fact you can only inspire three prophets a day.

The virtue of Lust, obviously, means that pre-battle barks are more “Come hither…” than “Come at me!”

It’s good stuff, and I felt challenged so far without being overwhelmed, and, due to the ability to see what a village has by planning to convert it then painlessly backing out to the city (not wasting my turn, as normally a conversion uses a turn) allowed me to use my prophets efficiently (as, after all, the turn will go on, so anyone you don’t send can do prophet things at home)

Aesthetically, it works pretty well so far. Everything (except the stats tab) is clear, you know what resists what while you’re planning things, you get some idea of what keeps the faithful faithful, and what builds what, and the animations are alright.

So, while it’s obvious there’s more development, it’s got a pretty good start, and I’m quite enjoying my time as a thirsty deity.

The Mad Welshman would become a dark deity of Endless Thirst in reality, but alas, Vaudevillain Union rules dictate that I keep my quota of three failed grand schemes a year.

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Cliff Empire (Early Access Reviews)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Right now, Cliff Empire is a frustrating experience. Not because it doesn’t have a good idea. Not because it doesn’t have a good aesthetic (futurist and clean.) No, it’s simply because its tutorial… Does not actually teach very well. Or, more accurately, it doesn’t keep up very well with how it is currently balanced.

Our latest bunch of hapless colonists.

Example: You are asked to build one matter generator. Then you’re asked to build a whole bunch of stuff that uses matter. Congratulations, your matter economy is now borked. If you, yourself, fix that, well… Did you know the power economy is, in the early game, heavily weighted toward building a lot of power surplus during the day, then disabling buildings and using batteries constructed by power surplus for the night? No? Oh. Well now you do. Some other things are more obvious, such as needing enough food and water to keep your colonist fed. But some needs are… Irritating.

Oh, yes… Premise. Earth has been blasted by radioactive war, leaving a lot of the fallout. Some folks escaped to an orbital station (which is doing just fine, by the by. Bastards), while the ones who remained, out of some weird altruism (that I don’t think those station folk are owed) built giant cliffs to rise above the radioactive fog that now covers the Earth.

Fun fact: They don’t always fill your needs. Perhaps the survivors on Earth had a sense of humour. In any case, there are three modes of play: Sandbox (currently preferred), Default (In which raiders don’t appear to come, but you have to fill those needs), and Tower Defense, which I haven’t even touched because… Come the hell on, I don’t need powering missile stations and shit on top of the hot mess that is currently “Just keeping folks alive.”

Trying to go it alone resulted in a… Marginally better life. Marginally.

Because yes, you will have trouble balancing needs. Colonists come in groups of 15 (needing Uranium to land, something you will have to trade for in the early game because you don’t know how much is in your particular cliff top), but housing comes in… 13, with the options for more if you spend the money. The money you won’t have until you build a trading station.

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the UI. Most of the time, the UI is just fine. But currently, the trading UI is clear as mud. It specifically wants you to enter numbers in the more than columns and less than columns as needed (Once you’ve put in a number, entering 0 for less than, or a number higher than you think you can feasibly reach for more than, is needed.) Buuuut guess how the columns, and the rows are differentiated? Answer: Not at all. It’s a big black space that, honestly, confused me for far longer than it should have.

What this doesn’t tell you: Also have enough matter creation to be able to handle that 3d printing and everything else you’re about to do…

Overall, Cliff Empire has an interesting premise (Even if I feel antipathy toward the orbital station survivors, considering their likely background), and it doesn’t need much more work, aesthetically speaking (Music is fine and calming, buildings are clear and futurist, UI… Needs some scaling options, and the aforementioned Trading UI thing.) But the balancing seems to need work, considering that nearly every building past the first few has some sort of roadblock or bottleneck associated with it.

The Mad Welshman will not allow the rich to get to the orbital stations. His knife and fork are at the ready…

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Swag and Sorcery

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.99
Where to Get It: Steam

It is an oft-spoken truth that adventurers are in the biz to look fly. Well, secondary to the concern of being as murderous as humanly possible in the pursuit of loot and monsters, but yes, looking good while doing so is definitely a priority.

WHAT DOES HE HAVE THAT WE DON’T?!? IS IT THE WOLF HAT?

And Swag and Sorcery aptly demonstrates what hard, thankless grind this can be with its fashion obsessed kingdom, out to find a long-lost magical, kingly costume, and look swag as heck while doing so.

Oh, and there’s some dork trying to tear the kingdom down. I guess he’s kind of in the way, along with his summons. Something about thinking that the King relying on a magic suit his grandfather had to solve the Kingdom’s woes…

Swag and Sorcery, overall, is an idle RPG with crafting elements. Send your adventurers out into the wild (occasionally returning them to town so you get some loot, instead of no loot at all and an annoyed adventurer waiting to heal), get ingredients and money, and then throw those ingredients and money into the adventure supplying industries, so you can do that first bit all over again. And again. And again. Until you beat a boss, at which point, you get more areas to look at, unlock more ingredients for more recipes and…

The ladies are, honestly, cleaning up by this point…

…Look, it’s enjoyable with a certain mindset. Wanting to discover what new thing you encounter, what new costumes you get, and whether this time, this time, that damn priest judge won’t vote a 9 on that awful pumpkin number. I mean, it’s summer, pumpkin is fall, you ecclesiastical blunderer! There is, to be fair, a lot of this adventuring industry: Alchemy to make some rare ingredients and get mana for spells (used to help adventuring parties in trouble), smiths and carpenters to sort equipment, clothiers to help the wizarding types… All manned by… The same adventurers you’re hiring to clean out the dungeons. Heck, even sending multiple adventuring groups out at once is a thing you can quickly do.

Aesthetically, Swag and Sorcery is not bad at all. Good, clear pixel art, you know what things are, the music’s nice, and the roles that are voice acted are amusingly hammy. Which fits with the game’s silliness, so… Appreciated. Sure, some monsters are a little generic, but the majority are something interesting. Ghouls in this game, for example, are armoured murderbeasts, and the Infected are dead, weeping eyed humans who have been melded to what appears to be giant spikey crab legs.

I will say, though, nice nod to needing a work-life balance. Ahhhh…

But yes, Swag and Sorcery is all about, as with most idle type deals, getting bigger numbers, so you can hit bigger numbers, which gets you bigger numbers. Sometimes those numbers aren’t quite big enough, so you have to grind on the smaller numbers until you can get bigger numbers (or grind on the bigger numbers hoping to get something out of it while other numbers get lower.) And… It’s not unenjoyable, it definitely has its high points, but… Sadly, I’m not really of the mindset to properly enjoy it.

The Mad Welshman already ground out his reviewing stat this month. More grinding is… Inadvisable for him.

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